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The irreplaceable, inimitable mother

November 12, 2008

There are a lot of great dads out there – some are better than others – but even the greatest father will never be a mother.

There’s something innate to motherhood that makes it impossible for men to wholly embrace. And it’s that same something that makes it impossible for men to adequately appreciate what mothers do.

We never get a break because we can never give ourselves a break. It doesn’t matter if we’re upstairs in the tub or half a world away – our kids are always at the back of our mind. It doesn’t matter if we’re at work, at the grocery store, or at the gynecologist with our feet in the stirrups – we’re always thinking about how we could be or should be taking care of our kids.

We wipe up crumbs. We replace toilet paper rolls. We wash dishes, load and unload the dishwasher. We notice when underwear or jammies are running low, and we do a load of laundry. We fold the laundry and put it away only to discover a day later that it’s now unfolded thanks to careless rifling.

We know where every last item in the house is, and everyone relies on us to find what they’ve misplaced.

We make sure our kids are relatively clean, dressed more or less for the weather, and have freshly changed diapers. We do all of this with unwashed hair and while holding in our pee long enough to give ourselves bladder infections.

We keep track of how often our kids poop.

We refill sippy cups and put pasta to boil and answer the phone – all while holding a baby at our breast. We vacuum with a toddler on our hip. We enlist the help of preschoolers in raking and bagging leaves.

When we’re downstairs, we think about what we need to bring with us on our next trip upstairs. When we’re upstairs, we think about what we need to bring with us on our next trip downstairs.
It never stops. We never stop thinking about what’s next on the agenda – and we do it all for the well-being of our kids.

Fathers do some of these things. A scant few fathers may do most of these things. But by their very nature, fathers simply don’t do all of these things.

Prove me wrong; I’d love to find a father who thinks that he does everything that a mother does.
And yet, most fathers aren’t satisfied with the job their counterparts do. There’s still a load of laundry to be done, or errant crumbs on the floor, or a missing ingredient for that potluck dish they’re supposed to bring to work tomorrow.

In their eyes, we’re either too strict or too lenient with the kids. In any case, they get to come in and be the hero or the enforcer, overruling our decisions and then leaving us to handle the fallout.

They use all the toilet paper and leave us with an empty roll. They leave their dirty dishes in the sink – if they manage to even get them that far. They sit on the sofa and watch TV while chaos reigns around them, completely oblivious.

They criticize us – our looks, our weight, our contributions to the household, our rising levels of frustration. They can’t understand why we’re so unhappy.

And it’s not that we’re unhappy; we’re doing what our bodies and minds make us do. It’s automatic. But I think we wish that we could detach ourselves – at least occasionally – the way fathers can. Barring that, we wish that fathers could understand us better, could feel the way we do.

This isn’t a complete picture of all mothers or an indictment of all fathers. But I’m betting all parents see ourselves or our partners here, in one form or another.

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